Gardening Blog

And suddenly… there was a shed

Chris and I have been talking about building a large shed, big enough to park our rider mower in. We have been known to wax poetic about all the fabulous things we will do with this building, going so far as to call it our “barn”, ever so romantically. It will have a green roof. It will house chickens. It will sport an arbour covered in hops and clematis.

It will be built, one day, and it will be fabulous.

Then, unexpectedly, a friend offered to give us a shed she wanted off her property.

Doesn't look like much, but it's really solid, insulated, and wired for electricity.

We’re all about the recycling, and after checking it over and finding it sound and suitable, we took her up on the offer. The only catch: we were in charge of moving it.

A few phone calls to neighbours and we had a couple of tractors lined up, along with a flatbed trailer.

Getting shed onto trailer: easy peasy.

Getting shed off of trailer: not so easy. (Insert your "how many guys does it take..." joke here.)

Pull, John, pull!

Ta-da! Just imagine it with siding, and an arbour off the peak of the roof!

It took some manoeuvring, but we got it right in the spot we wanted it. It may appear to the untrained eye like we just acquired an enourmous project. But to us dreamers, we just got a fast-forward on our good intentions.

Oh, the possibilities...

 

 

 

Weeding out the weedwhackers

I’ve been functioning okay for several years with a Black and Decker battery-powered grass trimmer, but the time has come to replace it. I bought it hoping to minimize my energy use, and to avoid the whole mess of gas. It worked really well, with great power and easy controls. But it just didn’t stand up to our property. With only about 15 minutes per charge, with six hours between charges, it barely scratched the surface of our 1.4 acres of grass, brush, fence lines, et cetera.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a great little machine, and I made it work for a while there, but it simply was not designed for large properties. When the battery finally gave up the ghost this spring, Chris convinced me it was time to suck it up and get a gas powered model.
So I’ve been doing my homework.


While I have been very pleased to note how efficient some of these little engines are (there goes my rechargeable battery arguement), I was having trouble processing through all the different choices. My experience with machinery is quite limited, you have to understand, so all this “cc” and “stroke” was Greek. I really thought I had it figured out though, and had settled on dishing out for a four-stroke (no mixing fuel!), until I talked to the guy at the John Deere dealership who tried to explain to me why some four stroke engines might still require an oil/gas mix…

So I did what any self respecting girl would do: I posted a request for advice on my Facebook.
24 hours later, I had enough comments to help me narrow my search down to three brands: Troy-Bilt, Husqvarna, and Stihl.

That, or, as my friend Russ recommended, get a goat.

Which is something we have actually considered.

But for now, while I really like the Stihls (which make you feel like some kind of landscaping superhero), I can’t rule out the Husqvarna: too many testimonials.

Time to count my pennies.

Strawberry season takes over my kitchen

We have either eaten or processed four flats of strawberries and one of blueberries in the last two days. As much as I wish I had grown all that myself, alas, it is not so; one day I will go there, but it is not today. I ordered them from a grower.

I picked them up Monday afternoon, and realized what I had done to myself. See, when I say ‘flat’ of berries, I’m not talking about the plastic tubs from the grocery store, I’m talking about the big cardboard trays that hold twelve dry pints. When I ordered them, it seemed like a very reasonable amount for what I wanted in my pantry and freezer for the year; when I actually saw them, all I could think was, That’s a lot of berries.

Monday night we froze most of the blueberries. That goes pretty fast: just sort, rinse, and bag.We saved a pint for Tuesday breakfast and ate about another while we worked.

Tuesday morning we tackled the strawberries. We washed, we topped, we sliced. We sliced some more.

The whole gang pitching in!

We picked the last of the rhubarb from the garden and chopped that up too to make strawberry rhubarb jam.

I like to use half strawberries/half rhubarb (my rhubarb is a sweeter variety) and use about 5 cups sugar to every 6-7 cups of fruit. After it's cooked down a little, I use an immersion blender to get even texture, then skim the foam. I then add a little box of strawberry gelatin, bottle and process.

Twelve pints later, we decided to freeze the rest (those that hadn’t already made it into the oatmeal, into Monday’s dessert, or into our mouths) before they could spoil.

Then…

We did dishes.

 

 

The verdict on solarizing weeds

My weed-solarizing experiment has been running for over six weeks now. It’s been quite wet and cool this spring, so it was a little slow to start, but we’ve had a few good hot days now and I am ready to call the winner:

Clear plastic after 40 days

Black plastic after 40 days

While initially I thought the clear plastic was working the best, the black plastic seems to have the best long term results. Probably the total light deprivation.

Things I would do differently next time:

1. Use bigger sheets of plastic. The garbage bags did the job, especially on an “experiment” basis, but finicky to use on the larger scale I intend to do. Also, I’m sure a heavier weight would change the effectiveness.

2. Cut everything back right down to the ground before laying the plastic. It would go down much smoother, and you wouldn’t have such a mess of dried up stuff to clean up afterwards.

3. Sealing out the air seems to make as much difference as sealing out the light. fix the edges really well as well as any seams.

4. If possible, I would try to leave the plastic in place for a full year, as different weeds manifest in different seasons.

 

An edible inventory and an unwelcome beetle

Last year I planted a few things in the small veggie patch that was already in the backyard when we bought the house – garlic, tomatoes, a few herbs. In the fall, my husband built a couple of raised vegetable boxes out of cedar, so after a soil delivery this spring, I was ready to plant a whole lot more. I planted so much I had to go elsewhere to find a spot for everything. It all fit eventually, but it will be interesting to see what thrives where. Because of the cool, wet spring we had, my tomatoes weren’t looking that great until the past couple of weeks. Now they’re finally taking off. I’m out there every night carefully inspecting everything. What’s that they say about a watched pot that never boils?

However it’s a good thing I’ve scrutinized my plants so closely or I wouldn’t have noticed the Colorado potato beetles (kindly ID’d by a social media follower) and their eggs and larvae attacking my tomatillos and potatoes. I’ve been hand-picking them off the leaves and drowning them in a water/dish soap mix. My fingers are crossed they won’t completely ruin my harvest.

Here is a mostly complete list of the edibles I’ve planted this year:

  • Tricolor Carrots Circus Circus (Renee’s Garden)
  • Golden Detroit Beet (Urban Harvest)
  • Radish Raxe – eaten about two weeks ago (William Dam Seeds)
  • Vates Blue Curled Kale (Urban Harvest)
  • Tomatillos (Richter’s Herbs)
  • Zucchini (unknown origins… I bought the plants on sale)
  • Bush beans from my neighbor (grown from seed)
  • Mammoth Melting Sugar Pea from Burpee’s Heirlooms collection
  • Fingerling potatoes (Urban Harvest)
  • A fig tree (from Steven Biggs)
  • A potted strawberry and blueberry plant (President’s Choice)

These radishes marked the beginning of my harvest season. They were delicious in salads. I'll be planting more in August!

My kale has already found its way into salads and the steamer!


I’ve also planted some interesting herbs:

And a bunch of tomatoes that I will list in an upcoming post!

I feel like I’m forgetting something…

Alberta flood aftermath

Enjoy your garden today, weeds and all: you’re not underwater.

Alberta is still reeling from the recent “unprecedented” flooding. (If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard the word ‘unprecedented’ in the last week…) Much of High River is unlivable, Calgary’s C-Train rails are a mess, parts of Waterton Park are cut off because of washed out roads, and many other communities, including the Siksika Nation, have been ravaged.

As for us: we are damp but our sump pump has remained idle. However, I only have to go one or two degrees of separation (in several directions) to find someone airlifted out of their flooded yard, or unable to get to work, or dealing with a death, or facing a completely destroyed home. It will take years (up to ten, and a billion bucks, according to Alberta Premier Allison Redford) to “fully recover,” whatever that means.

Much is being done to help displaced people with food, shelter, hygiene, and even a little entertainment (yay, Nenshi!). I’m glad to say I have two cousins in government in the area who are spearheading relief efforts for the worst-hit communities.

Through all this, I have thought a couple of times about the unlucky gardeners wading through this mess.  It’s with a little guilt that I even mention it, because I don’t mean to minimize the bigger losses some have and will experience. Still, my heart goes out to those dealing with horticultural devastation too. A lot of passion and work can go into a garden, and it’s got to be hard to have that washed away. The Calgary Zoo, for instance, has a wonderful botanical garden and I’m curious and a little worried to see if it makes it through, not just the giraffes.

I went digging to see what might be done for the plant kingdom under these circumstances, and found this informative article for those ready to turn attention to their gardens.  Also, the Calgary Horticultural Society is planning to organize donations of time, tools, and plants to re-green flooded areas.

While not nearly as important as food, shelter, safety and power, I’m kind of glad this concern is being addressed. I don’t know about “fully recovering” from the emotional losses so many have suffered, but burdens can be eased in many ways, one of which is enjoying the beauty nature has to offer.

All in all, I’m proud of how Albertans are pulling together to get through this, and I’m thankful for all the support coming from near and far. I think we’ll be back to working, playing –and planting– before we know it.

The war on weeds: goat’s beard

My dad was over this morning, helping Chris in the garage, and he asked me, “What is that pretty yellow flower you’ve got growing along the driveway? Can I pick some to take home to Mom?”

Much to my dismay, the plant in question will never win me any florist’s contracts, despite Dad’s favour.

It is Tragopogon dubius, otherwise known as goat’s beard (or sometimes yellow salsify or oysterplant) and it is a nasty, tap-rooted, fluffy-seeded nuisance.

Not to be confused with Aruncus dioicus, a tall, bushy perennial which bears the same moniker, the goat’s beard in question is not a garden desirable.

The plant also known as goat's beard.

A Eurasian import, goat’s beard has naturalized through much of North America thanks to a dandelionish habit: downy parachutes taking its seeds hither and yon. Apparently, as the dandelion, the roots can be eaten in various ways, but around here its only destiny is the garbage can. Except for the ones Dad did take home for mom.

I’ve got nothing against wildflowers here, I quite enjoy them. It’s just that it’s kind of depressing to be working hard babying the baptisia, lilies, and peonies, nurturing the young trees, keeping all (all, all) the grass mowed, and to have it go unacknowledged, unmentioned, while the attention goes to this runty little upstart.

My oldest scolds this naughty plant for stealing the spotlight.

 

 

 

The birds prove me wrong

My husband Chris is forever making stuff. He went on a streak a couple of years back making birdhouses out of re-purposed barn wood.

I warned him about getting too crazy with the size and shape of the openings, because I had read that different species of bird could be quite particular about that. He ignored me.

They were very popular and he’s sold most of them now; there are a few in our trees that he put up last year, but I didn’t think of them as anything but decorative because smartypants me knows that no bird would actually take a chance on these crazy things.

Particularly eyebrow raising was an old broken guitar he put up, minus the strings, for a laugh.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, all of these birdhouses have occupants.

Here are the starlings that have taken up residence in the guitar:

I realize these pictures will not have National Geographic ringing me up anytime soon... taken through the glass from the living room.

 

I should probably wash my windows

And there are some camera-shy little yellow finches hanging out in here:

Between these guys, the sparrows, doves, jays and the ubiquitous robins, our yard is downright noisy these days. I couldn’t have been more wrong. And I’m okay with that.

Tara’s tomato diaries: The Mighty ‘Mato

This year, when I attended the President’s Choice garden preview, I not only came home with plants to trial in my garden, I also came home with a little box. Inside the box were three grafted tomatoes. Luckily they spoke about this latest innovation for home veggie gardeners at the event, so I knew what to do with them.

Three Mighty 'Matos to try! I can't wait to see how they perform.

How does the whole grafting process work? In a nutshell, a cutting of a tomato plant is attached, or grafted, to hardy rootstock. Eventually the two fuse together into one plant. The resulting plant is pest- and disease-resistant, and more tolerant of temperature swings. You don’t even have to worry about crop rotation! The other bonus? You can double your crop. The plant I saw at the event was about six feet tall!

So, with all this information in mind, I took my Mighty ‘Matos home and planted two of them in my raised beds and one in a new veggie garden I created at the side of my house. I bought the extra-large tomato cages that will support them and I was sure to avoid burying the graft, which would cancel out all the benefits mentioned above. Luckily it was easy to see where the two plants were fused together – which in itself is pretty cool!

These cages looked ridiculous when I put them in the garden (that's my husband standing beside them), but apparently the plants will need them eventually.

I can’t wait to see how these plants turn out. I’ll be sure to report back over the summer.

The slap-dash planting of the raspberries

So I ordered some new Souris” raspberry canes this spring. Chris and I discussed where they might go, and we agreed to make them into a hedge in the mostly undeveloped back pasture of our property. He agreed to prepare the ground for me before the arrival of said canes, as they would likely already be sprouting and would need to go straight in.

Bless the dear man, he completely forgot, being busy rebuilding our back entry. How can I complain when I’m getting new lockers for all the kids?

But all the same, when they did arrive last week, I was faced with budding raspberry canes, inches of  imminent rain, and a grassy, decidedly un-ready plot.

So here’s what I did.

With my fingers crossed.

The ground being too wet to till, and about to get much wetter, I put the mower on its lowest setting and cut a strip where we had decided to put the hedge. Then I started digging a row of holes in the centre of the strip–just enough to loosen the soil about ten inches across and ten inches down. I pulled out any big clumps of grass or dandelion roots, threw down a bit of bone meal for some insurance, and tossed a cane in each hole.

The rain actually started to fall about halfway through the job, but I kept working.

And lastly, to keep down the grass and weeds around the fledglings, I laid down some carpeting scraps. You can buy fancy circles from the garden centre for this purpose, but the rain was falling and I live a good half-hour away from major shopping centres. Also, I’m cheap.

I cut slits for the canes to get the best coverage. this is how I always mulch baby trees. Mower goes right over top. You can also use cardboard, but you'd probably want to add some kind of mulch over top so the wind doesn't take it away.

I’ll leave the carpet in place until next spring, when I will remove it to allow new canes to emerge. By then most of the grass and weeds will be killed back, and I can decide whether to adjust the carpet for the new canes, or till, or mulch, or whatever. That’s next year. For now, I have raspberries in the ground, all in about a half hour, despite the rain and a forgetful husband.

(New lockers!)

 

 

 

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